The Rest of Forever
Fez stands up from the lawn chair and walks toward the door to the basement. His sudden movement wakes me from my half-sleep. I’m half-sitting-half-lying on the couch and to be honest, had been catching up on some much needed rest after last night. I was watching TV, but not really watching it.
“They probably decided to stay in California for the day. I’ll see them tomorrow,” Fez opens the door.
“Night Fez,” I mumble without lifting my head from its reclined position.
“Night,” Steven mimes. Then Fez leaves.
I watch the TV as a new episode of Three’s Company starts. I was keeping track of time through television episodes. If my math was right, it was now nine o’ clock.
I get up and stumble over towards the deep freeze to get a Popsicle. Then I lay back down on the couch, careful not to get too sticky.
“You know, I’m sure they won’t get here in the next hour if you want to go home and eat,” Steven says.
I lift my head and look at him. “What?”
“Did you ever go home to eat dinner?” Steven looks up from his magazine.
“I went to have dinner when you went to eat with the Forman’s,” I say. I would have asked Kitty if I could stay, but since I was grounded, she probably would’ve sent me home.
“Uh huh, that’s what you said,” Steven gives me a look that says I’m being unreasonable. “But I never heard the Lincoln start up, so I know you never left.”
Well, I can’t argue that. So I just rest my head again and watch the TV screen. I roll my eyes when Chrissy says one of her traditional stupid remarks.
“I don’t need to go home to eat. I have a Popsicle,” I say evasively.
“What else was in there?” Steven gets up. He gets himself a Popsicle. “There’s some frozen fries. I can put those in the dryer for you.”
“What?” I sit up.
“Yep. Rotisserie French fries,” Steven grins and lifts up the bag of fries.
“You’re insane,” I laugh. “And…no. That sounds gross.”
“Your choice if you want to go hungry,” Steven shrugs as he sits down with his Popsicle, but he is laughing too.
Then we watch the TV in silence. After the episode ends, another Three’s Company starts. At ten o’ clock, a re-run of The Brady Bunch starts.
“God, I hate this show,” I shift positions on the couch.
I see Steven glance at me in his periphery. “Yes, this show absolutely sucks. Not that I’m complaining Jackie, but shouldn’t you go home? It’s ten o’clock.”
I keep staring at the TV. “I want to be here when Donna and Eric get back,” I say quickly.
I see Steven turn back to the TV and cross his arms. “Is it those two who you are really waiting for?” Steven asks knowingly.
I snap my head in his direction. How did he know? “No,” I say slowly. “You’re right. I’m waiting for someone else.”
“So you are waiting for Kelso?” Steven looks at me. He has a straight face, but I detect a hint of surprise.
“What? No!” I say, taken aback. “Where’d you get that idea?”
“Then who are you waiting for?” he asks, now slightly angry.
This in turn makes me angry as well. I focus my attention back on the TV. “You know why I hate this show?” I say sharply. “Because Marcia is so freaking perfect, and so is her mother and her father…and he’s not even her real father.”
Steven doesn’t say anything. He just looks at me. He shakes his head slightly and raises one eyebrow encouraging me to continue, although I can tell he’s not all too pleased with me either.
I lift my arm and rest it on the telephone sitting on the tree trunk table sitting in-between us. “I am NOT waiting for Michael. I’m waiting for this to ring. I’ve been waiting since I got here this morning. And you know who I’m waiting for on the other line? My father.”
Steven keeps giving me that look. So I continue. “Because he grounded me last night, when he has no right,” I launch into my story about that. “He knows I’m here, I’ve basically told him as much. So if he ‘cares’ as much as he says he does, he’ll call. And until he does, I have no intention of going home.”
Now Steven looks down at his feet. He nods minutely and purses his lips. After a moment he stands up and walks toward the deep freeze. “I hate the Brady family too,” he says finally. Then he pulls out the bag of French fries and puts them in the dryer. Then he sits down.
When the dryer rings he gets the bag and eats a few fries. Once he deems them acceptable he passes me the bag. “Eat up,” he says. “It could be a while.”
I smile, despite myself. “Thank you.” After a few minutes I decide to ask him something. His declaration of hating the Brady’s reminded me. “Can I ask you something?”
“You just did.”
“There. You did it again,” Steven looks at me now, smiling bemusedly. When he sees my confusion he just shrugs. “Never mind. Shoot.”
“When Bud left Edna…did he, like, keep in touch with you?” I ask.
Not the answer I was hoping for. I glance down at the bag of fries. Oh, what the hell? I pick one up and start to munch on it. Besides it being a little mushy, its not all that bad.
“I’m probably going to regret this…but why do you ask?” Steven groans.
“Look, Bud didn’t just walk out on Edna. He walked out on me too. He wanted nothing to do with us. When Edna left, it was because she wanted nothing to do with me either. Does that answer your question better?” Steven asks.
I eat another French fry and think about what he just said. When Steven and I had gone on that one date last year, I had told him a bunch of crap about how he was worthy of love and he just laughed me off. But I only now realized how much he needed to understand that. Both of his parents had walked out on him. And that made me really sad. Because despite his stubborn demeanor, Steven was a really good human being. He deserved better than that.
“No, but it answered a different question,” I tell him.
The reason I had asked him about Bud keeping in contact with him was because I was wondering about my own mother. Like Steven’s dad, my mom had left her spouse, and thus far had done nothing to contact me.
Steven’s answer had done nothing to enlighten me to my own mother’s habits. She had left my father for entirely her own reasons. But his answer did tell me this.
Steven was incredibly insecure. Because of his upbringings with Bud and Edna, he had grown accustomed to believing that people would just use him and would eventually leave him. He had no idea of self-worth.
And this gave me a pretty good idea of where his head was at with the whole Michael situation. He expected me to do the very same thing that his parents did to him. He thought I’d leave him. And that made my heart flutter while simultaneously breaking it. Because it made me sad for him that he lived with that expectation, but it also explained his recent behavior. My original theory was probably right. He was protecting himself by trying to end things before I did.
But I had no intention of ending things with him.
I still however, disagreed with Kitty. I don’t think Steven thought I was his girlfriend. Although I wouldn’t mind that. But I smile now, regardless, because I knew one thing for sure.
Steven was protecting himself because if I left him that would hurt him. Because he didn’t want me to leave him. He at least liked me that much.
It must be almost eleven o’clock. And I am utterly exhausted. It’s a struggle to keep my eyes open, especially after staying out so late last night. And honestly, the Brady’s weren’t all that exciting.
I glance over at Steven, who, after our anger had dissipated, had sat next to me on the couch to binge on the bag of French fries. I l had turned so I was sitting sideways on the couch and Steven had let my rest my feet in his lap. But glancing at him now, I see that he actually has fallen asleep. I feel a pang of guilt. I hadn’t thought about how my staying here was keeping him up to.
I would get up, turn off the TV and leave so that he could get some sleep, but he is resting his arm over my ankles, which would make it very difficult to slip out without waking him.
After a moment, I decide that it is worth the risk. I slip my feet to the floor, but not without waking him. He watches me as I get up.
“Fez was probably right,” I say. “Eric and Donna probably decided to wait until tomorrow to come back.”
Steven knows what I really mean. I can see it in his eyes that he knows that my father never called.
“So, I’m just going to go home,” I shrug as I stand up. “Good night.”
“Wait,” Steven gets up too. Then he cups my face in his hands and kisses me, long and languidly. He sits on the couch, pulling me down onto his lap.
I wrap both arms around his neck and hold him tightly. He removes his hands from my face and moves them to my waist. Slowly, his hands move up my back and entwine in my hair. After a moment I pull my mouth away from him.
“I have to go,” I whisper in his ear.
He doesn’t respond, but just moves to kissing my neck. I almost get lost in the bliss of it, but I force myself to focus. I unwrap my arms from around his neck and now I’m the one to cup his face as I pull his head back to face mine and his lips back to my own. I give him one last lingering kiss before pulling back. I stay close enough however, that our noses still touch and we breathe the same air.
And I’m close enough to see the look in his eyes, full of desperation, and maybe fear. And that confirms my suspicions about him. Because I knew that part of the reason Steven wore sunglasses was because his eyes always bore the emotions he so expertly kept hidden.
So I hug him. I just hug him. I wrap my arms tightly around his neck and lean my head against his. In turn, I feel him squeeze his arms around my waist in his own hug. And I know we could stay like this, together, for the rest of forever.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I say, and I can’t help but kiss him again, one more moment of heat and intensity before I stand up and quietly step out the door.
My father’s car was in the garage when I finally got home. His bedroom door was closed and his light was shut off.
“I wonder if they are here yet,” I remark.
“Jackie,” Steven says.
“I wonder if Donna will get in any trouble,” I continue.
“Jackie,” Steven repeats.
“I mean, I know Eric will, but what about Donna?” I add.
“Jackie. Shut up,” Steven holds up a pile of photos he finished developing. Then he puts them down on the table in front of me. “Please. Just focus on packaging these.”
“Fine,” I say. “But I know you’re just as curious as I am.”
It’s the next morning and Steven had asked for a hand at work because Leo had a cold. I had agreed, but not without worrying that I’d miss Donna and Eric’s arrival. There was no way in which we could know when they would get back, but if Eric still thought he was fooling his parents, it would probably be sooner rather than later.
“Jackie, could you take care of that customer?” Steven asks. “I’m busy with this film.”
“Yeah, sure,” I turn in my seat to face the window. “Hi! Name please?”
The customer is a girl about my age, driving a blue 1968 Dodge Charger. She had long dark hair, and the girl in the passenger seat was a ginger, like Donna, and was wearing black wire-framed glasses.
“Dani, this is for you,” the driver looks at the other girl.
The red-head leans forward and I think I recognize her from her photographs. “Yeah. Summers.”
I turn to the box in front of me and look for the ‘S’ names. “First name?” I ask her.
“Danielle,” the girl says. I find her photographs and she pays me before I hand it to her.
“Here you go,” I say. “Have a nice day.”
“You too!” Danielle replies, and then she and her friend pull out of the lot.
“Steven, I’m bored,” I complain to him a few minutes later when I finish packaging all the pictures. No one else has come up to the window either.
“Uh-huh,” is all he says. His back is to me as he focuses on his task at hand.
Getting an idea, I reach over the top of the cabinets and lift a camera off of it. Being in the Foto Hut and seeing all these photos often made me nostalgic for memories that were not even mine to remember. And I hardly took photos, so I had nothing to look back on for my memories.
But I decide now that I want to remember this summer. I want to have pictures of how things were that summer that my boyfriend and best friend left me. And I want to remember how it was the best summer that I had ever had. Especially since the summer would end in a few days. I didn’t intend for things to change once it was over, but this was for safe-keeping.
Leaning into the view-finder I focus the camera and snap a picture of Steven. It’s of his back, and I can only see the very side of his face, but I don’t care. Then I get another idea. I pick up a pen from the desk and hold it to the side of the camera. I lean back into the view-finder.
“Hey Steven. What’s this? I ask him.
He puts down the roll of film in his hand and turns to look at me. Because I held the pen directly next to the camera, his eyes shoot immediately to the object I am holding and I snap the picture.
“Oh, never mind. It’s just a pen,” I shrug and put it back down.
“Jackie, what are you doing?” Steven asks, annoyed once again.
“Nothing,” I say innocently, but do nothing to hide the camera.
“Sure,” he nods before returning to the film.
“Wait,” I get up and rush over to him. I hop up on the counter where he is sitting so that I can be the same height as he is and I flip the camera in my hand so the lens is facing me. I reach my other arm around his neck and pull his face next to mine. “Smile!” I say before I snap the picture.
“Alright, Jackie, that’s enough,” Steven says, but I can tell he’s not angry. “We’re almost done. Then we can go wait for Forman and Donna. If Donna is even coming.”
A week later, I would have those pictures developed, but I didn’t take them to the Foto Hut, because I knew Steven probably would’ve thrown them away. And as soon as I saw them, especially the last two, I knew that I would keep them for the rest of my life.
Because in the second one, the one I took of him when I held up the pen, had come out perfectly. He was looking straight at the camera, and because he was developing film, he had taken his sunglasses off. Without them, I could see his steady gaze, and the open curiosity as he turned around. And I was thrilled because I had captured him, eternally, in a picture. I had captured who he was behind all his disguises, both those literal and figurative.
And in the third picture of him and me, I was staring straight at the camera and was smiling wide. I looked really happy. But the best part of the picture was Steven. And he wasn’t even looking at the camera or smiling. His eyes were turned to the side and he was looking right at me. And one side of his mouth was quirked upward in a half-hearted smirk. He looked happy too.
“I can’t believe that they’re not here yet,” I groan as Steven, Fez and I sit around in the basement later that afternoon, bored out of our own minds.
“Maybe Eric and Donna decided to run away,” Fez suggests. He picks up a yo-yo off the coffee table. He had been picking that thing up again and again.
“Nah, Forman doesn’t have the balls for that Fez,” Steven explains to him.
Fez puts down the yo-yo again and shrugs. “I just wish he’d get here already. I’m tired of waiting.”
Tell me about it. I was tired of waiting too. I was reading an old issue of Cosmo and I had practically every page memorized at this point.
Meanwhile, Steven was watching a re-run of a boxing match. I had a feeling he knew not only who won, but how they won too.
Fez picks up the yo-yo again.
“Okay, I’m leaving,” I sit up on the couch and throw my magazine to the floor. Every second more of waiting drove me further off the cliff. I needed to do something productive.
I don’t get very far, and end up walking back inside the Forman’s house when I see that Kitty is sitting at the kitchen table and I decide to join her.
“Hey, Mrs. Forman. Can I ask you something?” I say as I slide open the door.
“Sure, honey, have a seat,” she pats the chair next to her.
“Okay, so remember how I told you yesterday that I was grounded?” I sit down and cross my arms.
“Yes,” Kitty nods. And with a deep sigh, I launch into my story about my father. When I finish a few minutes later, the first thing Kitty does is stand up and walks toward the refrigerator. “Well, first of all, I’m going to make you a sandwich, because I’m beginning to wonder the last time that you had a healthy meal that wasn’t at my house.”
I watch her silently as she prepares me a sandwich, not really wanting to put her out of the way, but just now realizing how hungry I really am, especially since the last thing that I had really had to eat was dryer-heated frozen French fries.
“Alright Jackie. The only thing I can tell you is to let your father be your father. I understand why you don’t think you should’ve been grounded, and I’m actually in agreement with you on that. But,” Kitty pauses for a moment to think as she sits down next to me again. “But don’t shut him out, okay? Let him do something fatherly for you. And when he does, don’t throw it in his face that he has no right.”
“But Mrs. Forman, he doesn’t have the right – ”
“Maybe so. But if you want him to be your father…you need to let him try.” And with that Kitty stood, patted my shoulder and stepped out of the kitchen into the living room.
I stare down at my half-eaten sandwich thinking that there might have been a grain of truth in what she said. However, any further thoughts I may have had are interrupted when through the sliding glass door I see a green and white VW bus pull up in the Forman driveway.
I almost choke on my sandwich, but I hurry to the basement door. “Steven, Fez,” I call. Then more quietly so Mrs. Forman doesn’t hear. “They’re here.”
Fez flies up the stairs, and Steven follows more slowly. I wait for him and when we finally step outside I practically knock over Donna from the force of my hug.
“Donna!” I pull away from her and stand next to her. “I missed you.”
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I missed you too,” she smiles at me.
We look over at the guys, and I’m surprised to see Steven pull Eric in for a hug.
“So, my folks have no idea I was gone?” Eric asks, immediately getting down to business.
“No idea, you’re golden!” Steven tells him, smiling mischievously. I almost butt in and correct him. Almost.
“Aww, Hyde!” Michael comes around behind Donna and me and pulls his friend into a hug. “You got a beard!” he says ecstatically. “You look so...old,” he says, still smiling like an idiot.
“Of course I look old, man,” Steven smiles. He would never admit it, but I could tell he missed his friend. “I partied more than you. Worked more, drank more and slept with way more chicks,” he teases him. “I’m exhausted man,”
I took a small, greedy delight in knowing that none of that was actually true…except the part about work.
“Fez, my little man,” Michael jumps to him next, and I am already getting tired of his loud, obnoxious voice. So, as they continue to talk, I pull Donna back so I can talk to her.
“Look. Donna, I know you’re nervous about seeing people at school after running away and all…but I want you to know, its all under control.” I can’t help but smile. “I told everyone you went away to have a baby,” I nod.
“What?” Donna says, appalled.
“Yeah, yeah. It was badass,” I nod eagerly. “Oh, yeah. I say badass now,” I grin. Donna just looks at me, half-amused, half-worried.
I hear the sliding door open behind me, and I know that means Red and Kitty are here. And I did not want to see this.
“I was only kidding. About the baby thing, at least,” I pat Donna on the shoulder, and then disappear as fast as I can down into the basement.
A few minutes later I hear the door from the kitchen open, and several sets of feet clomp down the stairs. I have the TV on, but I don’t bother to turn it off.
“Well, it looks like its just the three of us again…plus Kelso,” Fez says as he, Steven and Michael join him down here.
I glance around confused. Fez is playing with the record player, Steven sits in his seat, and Michael in the lawn chair.
“Wait, where are Eric and Donna?”
“Ah, well, now they both must suffer from their acts of true love,” Fez says longingly.
“What?” I ask, more confused.
“Bob came over, took Donna. Forman’s with his parents,” Steven deadpans. Then he gets up and changes the channel before sitting back down.
“I was watching that,” I complain.
“No, you weren’t,” Steven glances at me so fast I almost don’t catch his bemused smile.
“Can we watch Gilligan’s Island?” Fez walks over and sits on the top of the couch, closest to Michael.
Michael. He was here, but I had already kind of forgotten that. Over the past two months, Steven, Fez and I had created our own little circle, and well, Michael wasn’t a part of that. Which, would probably explain why he was just sitting there silently, smiling idiotically.
“Not Gilligan’s,” I groan.
“You have any better suggestions?” Fez asks me.
“I don’t know. Whatever was on before Steven changed it,” I gesture to the TV.
“Oh, please. You don’t even know what was on,” Steven gives me a dirty look.
“Well, I know it was better than this. And Gilligan’s,” I refute, but I have to fight with every ounce of my being not to smile, because it was true, I had no idea what I had put the TV on.
And suddenly I regretted all that waiting for the California crew. While yes, I had missed Donna, I had forgotten what fun just Steven and Fez could be, and the others didn’t even matter.
Eric and Donna must’ve temporarily gotten off the hook, because about an hour later they were down in the basement with us. It was pretty cool, having everyone back together down here, but for them, it was like we weren’t even there. Which made it really uncomfortable for me, since I happened to be sitting on the other side of the couch.
Fez, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough. “Oh, not this again,” he says as Eric and Donna begin to kiss. “It gives me needs.”
“Fine, we’ll be upstairs,” Eric says, and he and Donna get up off the couch.
“Too late,” Fez says and he rushes out the door.
“Man, why are we watching this? It’s stupid,” Steven says once its just me, him and Michael.
“You’re stupid,” I tease him.
“Man, I’ve been gone all summer,” Michael stands up. “And I get back and everything’s just the same. I guess that nothing ever changes around here,” he shrugs and then leaves as well.
As soon as he’s out the door, Steven springs off his chair and leans over me to kiss me. I kiss him back, hungrily, but after a moment I have to pull away because I begin to laugh.
“What?” Steven asks, clearly annoyed. He sits back.
“I’m sorry,” I say between breaths. “It’s just…Michael said nothing ever changes around here.” I double over I begin to laugh so hard.
“Huh, yeah. I guess that’s pretty funny,” Steven says. “Man, he really is an idiot.”
For some reason this makes me laugh even harder. I feel tears form at the corner of my eyes, and I quickly wipe them away. My laughter fades. I look at Steven’s face, and he’s looking at me with a slightly amused and confused expression which sends me into a fit of laughter again. I lean against his shoulder, silently chuckling. After a few moments, my laughter dies out, but I don’t move my head from his shoulder.
“You through laughing?” Steven asks.
“Yeah, I think so,” I sigh. I almost make another joke, but then my heart momentarily stops when I feel Steven wrap his arm around my waist and just leave it there. And I am once again shocked how the smallest things he does can fill me with complete, overwhelming joy.
“You know. This sucks. I wish we could just stay here. Before, we only had Fez to worry about. Now the rest of our friends too,” I sigh.
Steven doesn’t respond, but I know he feels the same. And its not about being ashamed. Its about being happy with how things were, and not wanting or needing criticism and judgment from our friends. We didn’t want what we had to be tarnished by their claims, and I knew they would immediately disapprove if they ever found out. That made me sad, but it was how things were.
“We can sneak out later,” Steven finally says.
But right now neither of us move. No one is here to judge, and we’re comfortable. For now, we’re alone.
“Dad,” I say as I walk into the house that night. I’m trying to keep in mind what Kitty told me, but I end up having a lot of trouble with that when, for the second night in a row that I am grounded, I come home late and find my father in his room with his light off and his door closed. I mean, honestly. I hadn’t seen him all day today, and didn’t see him at all yesterday, and we were living in the same house.
“Dad,” I knock loudly on his door, hoping to wake him, and a moment later I see a light pour through the crack at the bottom of the door. And then the door opens.
He looks half asleep, yet alert, as though he is worried if I am okay. Well, at least that was something. “Jackie…” his voice drifts, off, confused, when he sees that I am perfectly fine.
“I’m sorry that I haven’t been giving you a chance to be a father. But I am not going to accept being punished for something I didn’t even know was wrong because you were never around to teach me that it was. So unless you hire a squad of guards to forcefully keep me in the house, I will not accept your grounding,” I say. I had prepared this speech and was on a roll.
“But I do want you to be a father, so I promise you I won’t resist when you do something fatherly, at least not for everything. I’ll even make the first gesture. I will be home for dinner tomorrow.”
My father doesn’t say anything for a long moment, as though he is taking in everything I just said. I watch him as he thinks. He rubs his moustache in the way he does when he is thinking about work, which annoys me because I am his daughter not his job. But at the same time, seeing him sleepy and in his flannel pajamas…he really looks like a dad. So I would be willing to try this if he put in just as much effort.
“Fine. Jackie. But I am setting some ground rules right now. You come home for dinner every night. And if you go back to your friend’s house again afterwards I expect a phone call to tell me where you are. And you are to be home by eleven o’clock,” he says in a stern voice, not entirely father-like, but it’s a start.
I am literally about to protest, but instead I bite my tongue. “Okay,” I say stiffly. “One more thing,” I add, having an idea. “I will ask you this instead of just doing it, but can I have a friend over tomorrow?”
He looks taken aback. “Well… I, mean…yes, of course. You mean, for dinner?”
“I don’t know,” I shrug nonchalantly. “Just to hang out really.”
He just nods. We stand there awkwardly for a moment. “Well…um, good night then. Dad.”
“Good night, Jackie,” he nods curtly again. Then I take a step back and turn and head back to my room.
I smile to myself. Things would turn out okay. They had to. First with my dad. I couldn’t say the same for my mother, but I was okay with that. And, I realized, all our friends were back together, and things hadn’t gone back to the way they used to be, and I didn’t think they would. That more than anything made me feel okay again.